Atlanta — The holiday season is traditionally associated with food, gifts and family gatherings — but it's not always gumdrops and candy canes. As the sun sets sooner and the temperatures drop, our bodies and minds are attempting to adjust but it's proving to be a challenge. How do these seasonal changes affect our mental and emotional wellness during the tough winter months?
Suppose shorter days and shifts in weather drain your energy and give you the winter blues. In that case, you are most likely experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a form of depression triggered by changes in daylight and weather during the fall and winter. People with a family history or diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder may be particularly susceptible to SAD.
Change of Scenery
According to Martana Eldridge, a licensed professional therapist, young adults are more likely to experience seasonal depression than their counterparts.
“Sometimes we underestimate the impact of our environment and our mental health! Think about it, how many times have you been anxious and/or sad and you looked around your room or house and it was a mess?” Eldridge said, “Change your environment by incorporating your favorite candle/scent, changing the room/setting, opening up your blinds for more sunlight, or even wearing your favorite cozy sweatshirt.”
This time of year can be particularly difficult for college students who are preparing for final exams.
“As a college student, I fight seasonal depression by remembering to not overwork myself during finals. I try to do work in spaces outside of my room like student lounges so that I have the chance of being social and not isolating in my bed.” Layla Louis, a student at Clark Atlanta University, said, “Most importantly, I acknowledge that the change of weather is affecting me and my body needs rest. I don’t criticize myself if I want to relax sometimes. Even if that means writing one paragraph for a paper instead of writing it all at once.”
Staycation vs. Vacation
My favorite remedy for dealing with winter blues? Go somewhere with a beach! Taking a vacation to a warmer climate can help combat SAD symptoms by helping you escape the cold and gloomy weather. It has been proven that the sun provides us with vitamin D, which is essential in maintaining mental wellness during the winter.
If a tropical vacation isn’t in your budget this holiday season, no worries! Consider staying local and taking a staycation. A weekend filled with ice skating, holiday light shows, and other local holiday-themed attractions will be sure to boost your mood.
If you are a college student who is not able to return home for the holidays, it may be time for you to host a holiday-themed gathering with your classmates on campus.
“I’m from PG County, Maryland. I can’t make it home this year. The holidays are a time when you’re supposed to be with family and when you’re alone it’s a gut-wrenching feeling,” Mia Ensley, a student at the University of Houston said, “It's important to remember that even though you are born into one family, you can also create a family of your own. Friendsgiving helps reassure me that there are still people around who are going through similar struggles, and we use that bond to create our own traditions.”
It’s important to surround yourself with a community around you. Many college students host community service events around campus to encourage holiday cheer. Get in touch with local businesses and see how you can spend time donating to a worthy cause. “Christmas Carolling for a Cause” is one event that I enjoyed during my undergraduate college years!
What’s the holiday season without our favorite foods? If you’re anything like me then your kitchen is already stocked with pie variations, cookies and eggnog! Although comfort food is a staple in many households around this time of year, it is important to eat these treats in moderation. Dr. Justin Ayankola, Medical Director of Collaborative Care at Wellstar Health Center, reiterates the importance of vitamin D and how our holiday dinners affect our emotional well-being. “When we overeat, we become drowsy and lose motivation. It’s a cycle of not exercising in the winter because it’s cold outside and there’s no motivation. It’s important to move your body!”
Financial insecurity also ties into mental instability. Overspending and under budgeting for gifts is a main factor in holiday stress. Preparing your funds for the holiday season is beneficial in many ways. Taking advantage of events such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday will help you save big and keep some extra money in your pocket.
Preparing for winter by beginning in the fall is the best way to overcome seasonal depression. Participating in entertaining activities, gathering with friends, and volunteering for community service are easy ways to feel active. It's beneficial to participate in these activities regularly in advance rather than to attempt to start over after the winter blues have already set in.
Jeydah Jenkins (she/her) is from Newark, NJ, but is an Atlanta-based journalist who covers the arts and culture. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok: @JeydahFromJersey.
Edited by Nykeya Woods